By Niki D’Andrea
Better than: Those $3 Jager Bombers the bar was offering between sets.
When I first pulled into the parking lot of Joe’s Grotto and saw only six cars sitting there, I thought to myself, “Maybe this show will be like the Ramones’ first gig – where there were only like, five people in the audience, but it was an historic event.”
Now, for the longest time, club owner Joe Grotto (yes, that’s his real name) required all bands that played the venue to include a certain amount of cover songs in their sets. But he recently spent $8,000 pimping the venue’s sound system and says he’s started booking more all-ages shows and more original music.
Still, the Grotto is a neighborhood rock bar known for its pool and dart tournaments, its colorful regulars, and its reliability as a place where people can go hear songs that they know. And so most of Downward Dog’s first set consisted of covers, starting with a Muse song.
It was definitely not analagous to the Ramones’ first show; there were at least 30 people there (not bad for a Thursday night in a club housed in a strip mall), and the music wasn’t punk rock in the least. It definitely rocked, but not in an obnoxious sort of way – more of a comfortable, let-us-be-your-party-band sort of way. The Muse cover was followed by covers of songs by Queens of the Stone Age, Altar Bridge, Sublime, and Tracy Bonham.
Singer Julia Bogen shakes maracas and tambourines (including a star-shaped tambourine), but otherwise doesn’t move around a whole lot on stage. She has an impressive set of pipes, and did some fierce vocal belting and octave climbing near the end of the Altar Bridge cover, but didn’t show off a whole lot otherwise.
Downward Dog singer Julia Bogen
The few originals that Downward Dog did play were solid. The first was “Hey Now,” a good contemporary rock song (even if the backing vocal harmony was lacking). “Happy” instantly made me so because it opened with cowbell, then eased into a smooth power ballad. I also liked the lyric “I would rather be defined by the friends I leave behind.” The song “True” was a head-bopping hard rock number with a deep bass groove, which contains the lyric “God is true.” It had me wondering if maybe Downward Dog is a Christian band, but I didn’t stick around after the first set to find out -- not becausethe music was lacking, but because I was getting relentlessly hit on by some guy in a straw hat who kept playing air guitar on a pool cue by the amplifiers.
Downward Dog bass player Fred Bogen
But I was impressed enough with the band’s cohesiveness on covers and progressiveness on originals that I’ll probably check out their next show at Joe’s Grotto, on Thursday, May 8.
Random detail: There is a church, a quilt store, and a pool supply place in the same strip mall as Joe’s Grotto.
Personal bias: I walked into the bar with a migraine.